Years ago I stumbled across St. Ignatius when I was taking a class on the Reformation in college. I was drawn to the Jesuit order and to the spirituality of St. Ignatius almost immediately. It was a bit counter intuitive because I grew up in the Protestant tradition and should have been drawn more to Luther or Calvin of the Reformation period. But for some reason I was drawn more to the stream of spirituality in this Catholic movement that became a significant part of the counter Reformation. Something about their depth of contemplative, heart searching spirituality drew me more than the feisty reformers who were marking out their differences with some of the theology of the mother church.
A few years later when I was serving in Mexico with my Protestant denomination, I found a Jesuit priest who allowed me to do a silent retreat with his community at a crisis point in my life and ministry. The week long silence and structured focus on discerning the movement of the Spirit of God was salve to my soul. I’ve been what I like to call a closet Jesuit ever since. I learned during that retreat the practice of the prayer of Examen and offer it here to you. It’s simple but excellent for helping you discern, what some like to call mindfulness, the patterns of grace and God’s presence in your life through the day.
Here are some tips redacted from the website http://IgnatianSpirituality.com. The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and to discern his direction for us. Follow this simple progression.
1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?
God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.
St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God.